Sunglasses that fold up into the palm of your hand?! When I saw these new Rudy Project Synform sunglasses, I was immediately intrigued with the foldable design. My mind entertained thoughts of easy stowage in a pack while running or traveling. But how convenient would the sunglasses be in actual practice? And how well would they perform in their main job as eye protection against the sun and wind? To answer these questions, I spent over a month testing a pair during desert trail runs and several days of trekking and canyoning in Oman. Here’s my assessment.
Convenience. In my mind, the biggest selling point for these sunglasses is their foldable design. Whether traveling, running, cycling or trekking, the convenience of being able to fold the glasses up when not wearing them, slip them into their small case, and stow them away without worrying about smashing them was all I imagined. This especially came in handy while canyoning in Oman, which required a mix of trekking, scrambling over rocks, and swimming. While swimming, I folded them up and tucked them inside the front of my wetsuit (without even using the case), and they held up nicely.
When running or trekking or cycling, the accompanying semi-rigid clamshell case can be easily stowed in a pack or jersey pocket. So when you take them off, you can put them in their protective shell. Although the case isn’t immune to being flattened if you sit on it, it can protect the sunglasses from the jostles inside a backpack. And the small size won’t take up too much valuable space inside a pack or jersey.
Lenses. The sunglasses come with Rudy Project’s vented interchangeable ImpactX-2 lenses. In addition to being able to swap out the lenses (which also accommodate prescriptions), the ability to remove the lenses makes them easy to clean after a sweaty workout. But what I like most is that the lenses are photochromic, going from clear to dark depending upon the light conditions. So there’s no need to even remove them if you’re out for a run as the sun goes down.
For me, sunglasses need to provide just as much protection from wind and dust as from the sun. And this is where I really experienced the value of these photochromic lenses. Since the lenses are clear in low light, I could wear them at night during windy conditions. No need to swap out the lenses or swap out a pair of dark sunglasses for a separate pair of clear glasses. This came in extremely handy during my testing in Oman where I encountered some windy storms beneath dark daytime skies in the mountains and at night on a sandy beach. The photochromic lenses adapted to the light conditions and kept my eyes protected from blowing dust and sand.
Frames. The foldable frames obviously constitute the unique calling card of these sunglasses. The frame extends around the top of the lenses—nothing below—to provide a minimalist design. The nosepiece is solid but adjustable, so you can mold it to the shape of your nose. The temple tips are also fully adjustable, which may not be obvious at first glance; but you can bend them to your desired fit.
Stylishness. I can’t give these sunglasses high marks in their stylish appeal, especially for casual post-activity use or walking around town. But rating the stylishness of sunglasses is highly subjective, and I suppose it’s a tall order to expect one pair of sunglasses to look good for all occasions.
Cost. Despite their quality and the unique features of these sunglasses, their price tag can be a deal breaker. They retail for $349. Comparable sunglasses from Oakley retail for substantially less, and even those prices are difficult to justify for an athlete on a limited budget.
I generally advise athletes to invest their precious dollars in areas that have the most impact on athletic performance or comfort. Although sunglasses are important, the money you spend doesn’t typically correlate with performance or comfort as it can with other types of equipment and clothing. A $20 pair often works just as well as more expensive brands.
Of course, that’s not to say those $20 pairs are of equivalent quality as the higher end models. And it’s definitely nice to have one pair of high quality sports sunglasses around for serious use. The upfront cost can be worth it if you take care of them. As long as you don’t lose them or drive your car over them, you should be able to get several years of use out of a quality pair of sunglasses. Just avoid cleaning the lenses with a t-shirt; use the microfiber cloth that comes with the sunglasses instead!
Despite the high retail price, Rudy Project offers generous discounts to various teams and organizations, including USA Triathlon. So check your current benefits if you’re a USAT member. Or shop for the Synform on Amazon. That should allow you to bring the price in line with other top brands so you can compare models on a more equivalent footing.
The bottom line. The Rudy Project Synform sunglasses boast many convenient features that are difficult to find in other brands or models, including a fully foldable frame along with interchangeable photochromic lenses that can be worn night or day. The quality is on par with other top brands, but the price tag is steep. If the style and features appeal to you, look for discounts to bring the cost of the Synform in line with other top brands before making your purchase.
Disclosure statement: The product tested for this review was supplied by Rudy Project.